The currents around her shifted with the presence of another and her shoulders sagged, hands coming forward to press palms flat against the mattress of her hospital bed. The IV reminded Buffy of it’s presence with a sharp and painful twinge in the bend of her elbow. Her lashes fluttered, brows tightening as she pulled herself completely free of her meditation and stretched her fingers wide, pressed them downward before opening her eyes.
A blank stare from the concrete wall was the first greeting she received when awakening and a well timed cough turned her head, had her smiling at Jonas. He returned the gesture and rose from his seat beside her bed to stand close enough so that only the metal railing separated them.
“Good afternoon. You’re looking a lot better,” his smile stretched, “you have absolutely no idea how much that means to me.”
Buffy’s lips dipped as she recalled the other ascended’s earnest words and sighed. “I do.”
Pale hazel eyes widened and a hand rose to wrap around the railing as he flashed her a brilliant and even wider smile. “I wish Dr. Frasier had told me you had learned—”
She raised her hand, palm up and stopped the rush of excited words that fell from his mouth, his brows drew low and she motioned him back. “I think you’re going to want to sit down for this.”
His head inclined, but he did as she requested, a frown replacing all the cheer that had filled his face just moments before and she turned away from the confusion that would soon turn to anger and mistrust and instead focused on the IV nestled in her flesh. She picked at the tape holding it in place and peeled one side free before grasping the plastic tube and straightening her arm. A downward movement freed the needle and she yanked the rest of the tape away with a sharp twist of her wrist before tossing the bit of plastic and metal to the bed beside her.
Cupping a hand over the newly created ache Buffy relaxed her body and turned back to Jonas. His features had become impassive as he watched her deftly remove the IV and his arms crossed over his somewhat impressive chest. Her lower lip rolled into her mouth a moment before she released it and simply stated, “I’m not an Ancient.”
His mouth opened, closed and then opened again as he leaned forward to brace his palms against his camo-covered knees. She watched him struggle to form a coherent question or statement and took pity. In as few a words as possible she explained the hows and whys of her coming into this reality without
mentioning any aspect of her slayer-ness and finished with, “I was trained by them. Taught to understand the universe through their eyes, but I’m as human as you are.”
Jonas’s mouth pulled into a thin line. “You lied to us.”
“No!” Buffy’s shoulders sagged as she corrected, “Yes or maybe,” she shook her head, “when I first woke I didn’t understand much of anything other than the fact that I was alive. I didn’t remember. I couldn’t.”
“And when you did?”
Her teeth tugged at her lower lip again. “I was afraid.” She snorted. “I’m not use to being afraid or cautious for that matter, but Orlin beat those concepts into me over the years.”
She smiled at the curious tone in Jonas’s voice and ignored the fact that others had entered the room. “He was the first Ancient I met. The first to actually care about what happened to me. He taught me, made it his personal mission for me to understand and accept that I was never going home.”
“Then why did they leave you behind?”
Her eyes hooded. “It was my choice. The sickness that infected you and your friends was ravaging their society. Orlin contracted it.” Her stomach knot as she recalled his fevered words and flushed features before his final goodbye.
A hand wrapped around her own, drew Buffy’s attention away from her grief and back to the Jonas, who now held that hand between his own as he stated, “He died.”
The corners of her mouth drew up and she shook her head. “No, Orlin ascended.”
Jonas’s hands stiffened around her own. “Ascended? The Ancients ascended?”
She nodded, the rough rows of her hair slipping forward to crowd her features. “Some. Others did die, but most of those infected managed to reach a level of understanding that allowed them moved beyond their mortal forms.” Her smile stretched and a tear slipped out from the corner of her eye to trace a wet path down the side of her cheek. “And now I sound like Orlin.”
“Axelia…” He trailed off and frowned. “Is your name even Axelia?”
She flinched, “No.” Jonas did as well and his frown became more prominent and she struggled to make him understand. “It’s what the Ancients called me. They thought my name frivolous.”
He smiled. “So what is your name?”
His head cocked. “I’ve never heard it before. Is it a common Earth name?”
“No, not really,” she blinked, frowned in confusion before asking, “And did you say Earth name? You’re not from Earth?”
He grinned. “No.”
“Not gonna tell me, are you?”
“Not just yet.” The teasing tone left his voice and he kept her gaze. “There’s a lot more you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”
Instead of omitting and possibly causing more conflict later on, Buffy nodded. “Oh yeah.”
“Like why you mistrusted us rather than being relieved.”
“I didn’t mistrust you Jonas.”
Her smile twisted and she allowed darker bits of herself to shine through for a moment. “If I’d mistrusted you, you’d all be dead right now.”
The hands surround hers flexed and his gaze dipped. He had forgotten he still held it and his grip tightened as those hazel eyes rose to meet her stare and he offered her a weak quirking of his lips. “Good point.”
“Not necessarily a good point but it is a viable one.” She curled her fingers downward so that she held the hand beneath her own rather than merely letting him cup hers. “I saw something in you.”
“And what did you see?”
His head inclined with the pain that filled those two words and he repeated them back to her, made them a question. “A memory?”
“Of someone I use to know.” Her brows pulled together and she visibly shook herself. “Sorry, I’m answering in cryptic.” She offered him a sheepish smile. “Too long spent with the Ancients.”
He leaned forward, mindless of the fact that the others of his team—minus Colonel O’Neill—had made their way into the infirmary and had begun listening to their exchange. “What were the Ancients like?”
Buffy stiffened and questioned, “Were?”
He nodded. “The race of the Ancients left this section of the universe long ago. The only thing we know about them is what we’ve gleamed from old texts and now you.”
“They never came back?” Her voice faded and she pulled her hand back, tucked her arms around her waist and shook her head. “No, that’s not possible. That can’t just be gone.”
Jonas flinched as he realized the idiocy of his previous statement. “They’re not just gone. They left behind a legacy. The Stargates for one and—”
“Stargates?” Her lips quirked as she made the connection. “Is that what you call the Astria Porta
? It’s clever.”
“I’ve always thought so too. Though the Goa’uld and therefore most other cultures call them Chappa’ai.”
He gave a small, derisive laugh. “I suppose they weren’t around eight million years ago were they?”
“Orlin never mentioned them.”
Jonas pulled his chair closer to her bed, sat back and started simply with, “They’re an aquatic and parasitic race of aliens that, approximately ten thousand years ago, ruled this planet and still rule countless others today…”
The conference room was quiet after Jonas gave a quick summation of Axelia’s—Buffy’s account of how she came into their world, their reality. General Hammond’s gaze had become increasingly narrower as Jonas came to the end of his short speech and the leader of the compound, that he now called home, shook his head. “Are you certain she’s telling the truth?”
Jonas opened his mouth, ready to defend her and then he paused, contemplated his words before stating carefully. “I don’t see a reason for her lie now. Not when she could have easily kept up her charade.”
“She could have also easily allowed our deaths.”
Sam’s brows rose with Teal’c’s casual statement and redirection towards what they knew of Buffy Summers’s character. She briefly met Jonas’s gaze from across the table before turning to the general. “I’d still like to know how exactly she got into our reality in the first place.”
“And if she’s from an alternate reality that follows the same timeline as our own then how is she, genetically, so incredibly different from us?” Dr. Frasier added her concerns as a tail end to Sam’s giving the other woman a small nod.
“I think it best that we proceed with caution with Ms. Summers from here on out.” Hammond shifted in his seat so that he faced his CMO. “Dr. Frasier when will she be able to leave the infirmary?”
Jonas watched Dr. Frasier’s mouth thin. “She’s already more than capable, sir.”
His brows rose. “Alright. Then let’s begin the arrangements for private quarters under constant surveillance and then I’d like to begin a series of interviews. Let’s gather as much intel as we can from her, while we can.”
“While we can?”
The general turned toward Jonas and offered him a tired smile. “As of late the less respectable aspects of our government have been intervening during first contact matters such as these.”
The younger man frowned and shook his head. “Buffy is from your planet, granted another reality, but she’s from Earth. How can she be considered first contact?” His eyes widened as realization dawned. “You mean the NID. You believe they’ll actually attempt to take her from beneath your command?”
“They have done so on many an occasion Jonas Quinn.”
He turned toward the far end of the table and Teal’c. “I don’t think that would be for the best. Buffy’s already mistrustful and for us to just turn her over—”
“It wouldn’t be by choice, Jonas.” Hammond’s gaze darkened as he continued, “which is why the more information that we can gleam from Ms. Summers the better my stance that she is best kept here will be fully backed.”
The general pushed his chair away from the table and rose, Dr. Frasier and Sam quickly following him before he dismissed them with a brief nod. Jonas pushed himself back from the table and stood, silently watching Hammond’s departure as his hands delved into the pockets of his cargos. His head swiveled and he caught Sam’s gaze. “I don’t think she’s going to take to strangers questioning her.”
The major raised her brows as she gathered up his typed report. “Are you volunteering?”
Teal’c came to Jonas’ side and nodded. “I would like to volunteer as well Major Carter.”
Sam glanced to the side, met Janet’s slightly amused gaze. “Okay. We’ll get her settled into personal quarters first and can begin the questioning tomorrow. Let’s give her at least one day of rest.”
“Will the NID?”
Her head inclined with the shrewdness of Jonas’s question and she offered him the simplest answer. “That’s why we’re the good guys.”
Teal’c’s brows rose. “I believe that is an accurate defining line between our two parties.”
Sam nodded. “Thanks.”
His head bowed, chin nearly brushing his chest before the large Jaffa left the room followed closely by Janet. Who paused to lay a comforting hand on Jonas’s arm before she left. He sighed, turned back to Sam. “It’s not going to be as easy as you’re making it seem is it?”
She offered him a tight-lipped smile. “Not by a long shot.”
After nearly thirty minutes of watching the seconds tick away on the clock above the door Buffy had given up politely waiting and simply began to amuse herself. The metal chair she was seated in rocked back on two legs, precariously balancing there and Buffy shifted her weight toward her center as she waited in the very small, very enclosed room. Her brows pulled together as the chair shifted and she leaned back, counterbalancing and holding the slightly elevated position as the door to her little corner of boredom finally opened.
Jonas arched a brow at her as she brought the chair forward with the sharp sound of metal striking concrete and he closed the door before making his way forward. He set down two steaming Styrofoam cups and a yellow legal pad before taking the seat across from her. A pen was freed from one of the many pockets of his cargos as he leaned forward and nodded for her to take one of the cups.
She reached out, caught the one closest to her and pulled it to her chest to inhale the calming scent of green tea. The steam rose upward to warm her exposed throat and she shook her head, felt the soft waves of her hair shift at her back and she ignored the odd feeling of her hair being loose and free. The ointment she had twisted through it had helped to contain her body’s heat whenever she had exposed herself to the harsh climate outside the compound. She had been forced to reapply it out of desperation when the power had begun to fail.
“Tell me about the compound in Antarctica.”
Her brows rose and she took a hesitant sip before answering, “Which one?”
Jonas’s gaze rose form the legal pad and his head inclined. “There was more than one?”
She nodded. “There was an outpost and a ship.”
“There was a ship?”
“Atlantis.” Buffy smiled and added, “It was massive, more like a city and constantly under construction.”
Jonas shifted forward, the need to take notes forgotten as he prompted. “Under construction?”
“They were always building, creating. Making things better. The Lanteans were definitely not
of the thought: if it’s not broke don’t fix it.”
She sipped her tea and nodded. “That’s what they referred to themselves as or Atlanteans when they were being formal.”
Jonas blinked, shook his head. “You’ve always referred to them as the Ancients.”
“Because that’s what they were. Not who they were.” She inclined her head. “I figured this questioning was to get to nitty-gritty truth.”
Jonas smiled. “It is and you—”
His response was interrupted as the door opened and Sam stepped inside. Her pretty features drawn into a blank mask as she took a quick survey of the room and gave Buffy a brief nod of acknowledgement before settling her intense gaze on Jonas.
The younger man inclined his head. “Sam?”
Her lips thinned, gaze shifting to Buffy once more before she stated, “The Tok’ra have sent a representative.”
His brows rose. “Finally?”
Buffy flicked her gaze back and forth between the two, but wisely kept her mouth shut—Orlin would have approved. Her jaw tightened with that thought and she pushed it back, pulled away from memories that might cripple her and instead focused on Sam and Jonas.
“Gen. Hammond has called a briefing.”
Sam’s chin dipped. “Now.”
Jonas turned back to her with a sympathetic look and Buffy raised her brows before tilting her head toward Sam. “Get outta here.”
His smile was worth the tension the brush off was causing as he rose and made his way quickly from the room. Buffy frowned as the door closed and shook her head as she muttered, “I’ll just wait here alone.”
The door opened and Jonas reappeared, his smile wider and apologetic as a familiar pair of soldiers followed him in. “Sorry, nearly left you. They’re,” he tilted his head from side to side to encompass the men flanking him, “going to take you back to your quarters.”
Buffy nodded and flattened her palms against the table before pushing herself to her feet. She snagged her tea as she walked around the table and towards Jonas, who stepped back and aside so that she could precede him from the room. Her steps slowed, hesitated as she reached the next corner and Jonas came to stroll at her side, turned them right and led them down the wide concrete hallway and back towards the elevators.
She pondered the pros and cons of questioning his sudden need to meet with this ‘Tok’ra’ but thought it best to remain silent for the time being. She was sure Jonas would explain things in time, but at the moment his body hummed with his anxiousness. The steady vibration of his agitation was succeeding in elevating her own heart rate and her brows pulled together with the fact that his physiology was so very in-tuned with her own. Green eyes shifted sideways to watch Jonas and her frown became more pronounced as she noticed the strain around his eyes and mouth.
Their stride slowed and Jonas paused beside the elevator and swiped a white access card in the small panel beside the metal doors. The light flashed green and he turned to her, offered her a tired smile and Buffy wondered what had happened in the few moments he and Sam had been alone, but again swallowed the urge to ask.
“I’ll come by your quarters later.”
She knew her smile was weak as she stated the simplest words that were rarely ever offered to her, but nearly always managed to bring sliver of hope to those that heard them. “Good luck.”
His brows rose marginally and he nodded. “Thank you.”
He turned on his regulation boot heel and made his away from Buffy with a purposeful stride as the doors beside her opened and one of her escorts entered while the other waited, his face expressionless, for her to follow. Her brow quirked, but she complied and he stepped over the small metal lip while his shorter partner swiped his own card and entered the code for level twenty-two. The doors came together with faintest compression of air and Buffy ignored the fine hairs along her arms as they raised and busied and warmed herself by taking a sip of the tea Jonas has given her.
She found it odd to be focus of someone’s attention when they weren’t actually looking at but at a spot in
the wall above her. Her arm settled back at her side as the elevator began to slow and she resisted the urge to rub at the unnerved goosebumps prickling the skin of arms as the thick metal doors separated and she waited, let one of the soldiers separate from his partner and take point before she followed.
The trio was mostly ignored as they made their way past a few scattered groups of people and Buffy inclined her head as she caught the faint echo of clattering plates again. She turned her head, watched a set of swinging doors arch inward before a wide frame stepped into the hall several feet in front of her and Buffy’s stomach tightened, her steps faltering as the her cheeks cooled, paled.
“Graham?” spilled from her suddenly numb lips and familiar blue eyes turned to her and a strong chin tilted as he studied her a moment before a frown pulled the line of his mouth downward and Buffy’s stomach knotted.
He took a step forward, followed by another until he stood only a few feet away and the airmen escorting her stiffened and greeted Riley Finn’s best friend with a salute. He paused, returned the gesture before focusing on Buffy, the confusion evident in his gaze as he simply questioned, “Ma’am?”
Her chest hurt as her last hope that this might just be her world vanished and her shoulders sagged. “You’re Graham Miller, right?”
Those intense blue eyes narrowed. “Yes, ma’am.” His head inclined. “Have we met before? You seem to have me at a disadvantage.”
Her mouth opened, then closed before she shook her head. “No, not in this life.” The irony in her quietly muttered words was lost on him, but she shifted her tea to her left hand and offered him her right. “Buffy Summers.”
He hesitated only a moment before accepting her handshake and meeting her gaze head on. “Lt. Graham Miller,” his smile turned charming as he added, “but then, you already knew that.”
She gently disentangled her hand and hesitated in saying anything else since Dr. Frasier had warned her that her status at the compound was on a need to know basis. Her mouth dipped at the corners as she watched Graham’s head inclined and his eyes partially narrow as he studied her. It was a familiar gesture—from someone she wasn’t entirely familiar with—that tugged at something high in her throat and before she could stop herself she stated, “Have dinner with me.”
Graham’s brows pulled together instantly and his gaze flicked from her escorts back to her before he asked, confused. “Who are you?”
“Ma’am.” The warning from one of the airman behind her drew Buffy’s spine straight and she sighed, stepping back from Graham, from the echo of her previous life as her escort added for Graham’s benefit. “We need to go, sir.”
The trio made it several feet before Graham called out, his voice uncertain. “Ms. Summers?” Buffy paused, turned her head and met his gaze, he studied her another moment before stating, “It was nice meeting you.”
She smiled, a wide flash of straight white teeth that seemed to ease some of the tension around Graham’s mouth and eyes before she turned, made her way back to her quarters and far from the urge to ask how Riley was doing.